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Use Project Management Tools to Set Up Your Exam Preparation Course

I have been pretty busy in the last couple of weeks, starting out with new projects and starting up with some old ones. In the years I have been a teacher (still can’t believe it’s been almost 15 years now) the more I teach, the more I feel like I want to keep teaching. I think part of what makes me passionate about teaching is that it keeps me on my toes. For me, part of being an amazing teacher is being a lifelong learner and aficionado to my craft. So, that’s why I love staying up-to-date with how we can improve teaching and continue finding new tools that will make any learning experience more engaging for your students.

I was kind of stumped on what to write about this week until I ran across Anthony Ash’s post on Using Trello for Language Learning. After I quit my day job, I decided to turn into a full-time ELT consultant and since then I tend to end up working on various projects at a time, so I’ve had to find tools to help me keep everything in order. I usually use Asana, but I’ve heard of Trello and I know that it’s just as handy. So, once I finished reading Anthony’s blog, my brain got super creative and tons of ideas started flowing. (Thanks, Anthony!). So, this got me thinking about how I could apply this to what I do today. Nowadays, I’ve been focusing more and more on training teachers and teaching exam preparation courses for different international English exams, specifically IELTS and TOEFL. So, a thought came to mind, why not use a Project Management web app like Trello or Asana to set up my exam preparation course. It could be so effective, and you’d only have to set it up once, because from there on out you would simply update and rev it up every once in a while. After playing around a little with the features on Trello here are some ideas on how you can use Trello to organize your next exam preparation course (or any course for that matter). 

Get familiar with Trello features

On Trello, you can visually organize your information, the same as you would on a board. On each board, you can create columns which are called lists, to which you can also add cards. The cards can contain all types of information from links to images, or you can even attach files from your computer or from other online apps like Dropbox, Google Drive or One Drive. When you open your account you can always check out the welcome board which will walk you through the different features you have available.

How to use to design course?

After playing around a little with Trello, there are really many different ways you can set up a course on this app. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Skills: Each list can be focused on a skill (reading, writing, speaking and listening). By having each List represent a skill you can segment activities, exercises, homework, and links.
  • Subskills: When preparing students for exams, understanding the subskills is just as important as knowing the skills. Here you can set up activities and exercises to help them hone in on these subskills like scanning and skimming, as they improve their overall communication skills.
  • Vocabulary lists: If you’re interested in making sure your students improve their vocabulary, which is essential for  your students if they want to get a better score on an international exam, then try Trello and make a list for each of the different categories like phrasal verbs, collocations, idioms, or word groups by topics. Here you can include word lists or links to practice the new vocabulary, or simply homework so students can put them in use.
  • Grammar review: Make a list of the grammar topics that most people get wrong during tests and strategies with how to improve them with links where they can find grammar explanations, exercises, and examples.
  • Exercises: You can also add exercises, practice tests, links to shared folders on sites like Google Drive or Dropbox.
  • Resources: You can also simply use it to have a bank of files, links, and images that will help your students on their path to preparing for the exam.

How to get students to use it?

During your courses, independent if it is an exam preparation course or if it’s a general English course, you can get your students to keep track of all of the resources that they find the most useful during their learning process. You can motivate students to make lists such as vocabulary, grammar, games, news, references, among others to keep track and revisit all of the resources given to them in class. By keeping it all in one place, it will be more likely that they’ll use it again at some point.

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Check out my sample

Here is a quick and simple example I made just for you guys so you can see how you could potentially set up your IELTS Exam Preparation Course on Trello.

 

 

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5 Amazing DIY Teaching Websites

As teachers we sometimes want to tweak a little (or a lot) our course book’s ready-made activities or simply want to make our own to really adapt it to our students’ needs. Now, let’s face it, this can be quite time consuming and if we’re not that tech friendly it may be nearly impossible other than brining out the markers. I think we’ve all tried at least once to make our own crossword puzzle, or Bingo from scratch on Word and found ourselves quickly giving up or just finding one that was already made and adjusting our lesson plan around it. In light of this, I’ve put together some sites that I’ve found really helped me to save time and easily make my own fun activities in just minutes. Hopefully they will also help you.

Crossword Puzzle Maker

This website actually offers a few tools to generate games along with fun and easy worksheets and printables, so I definitely suggest you check out their complete website. What I especially like about their crossword maker over other similar sites, is that you can adjust it after it’s been created. My favorite part is that it give you the option of printing out an answer sheet. You can adjust font, titles, size of the crossword, or the font, and instead of printing you can also save it as an image. You can go crazy with this one and give your students personalized crossword puzzles or even get them to make their own as homework!

Word search Maker

This one I’ve found is just very simple to use. Although it doesn’t allow to adjust after creating it, you can also just copy paste it into your own Word file and be creative with it. Since it’s a word search you can put these into sheet protectors and have your students find the words with an erasable marker and then reuse with all of your other groups. For more ideas on how to use sheet protectors in class take a look at 3 ways to use sheet protectors for easy reusable ESL activities.

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Bingo Maker

This one in particular is one of my favorite. I love making Bingo cards for many different types of games,even with songs. If you want to know how I use it with songs, check out my previous blog “No more song fill-in-the-blanks. Part 1”. Anyway, this site gives you some ready-made bingo word lists or topics that can really come in handy, which you can also personalize, or if you’re in the mood (and have the time) simply make one from scratch. You can even put a serial number on each Bingo card to keep track of them and again you can put these in the sheet protectors and have fun with them in all your classes.

Boardgames

On this site you can find tons of options to adjust to your ELT board-gaming needs. You can either use one on their list, where you’ll find a lot of great topics to review with your students, or again make your own. You can also adapt it so it has pictures, or words, or a combination of both. I also found one of the templates to be really cool, because it has a loop racetrack theme, so you can adapt the rules depending on how much practice you want your students to have by changing the number of laps to win. For boardgames, you can also simply make a blank one, put numbers, categories or colors on them and print out task cards for each category (if you put colors, print them out on rainbow-colored paper). This is sure to add lots more fun to the game. By doing this you can also reuse the board in any class, simply by printing out new task cards.

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Flashcards

We all like using flashcards in class and here you can make your own. It has a lot of different adjustments that will be sure to help you make the perfect ones for your activity. You can even make the task cards for the board games here. A great feature for those teachers that like using phonetic alphabet with your students, it has a special phonemic keyboard that lets you put it on the cards. If you want to print out two-sided flashcards, just make two sets: one for the front and the other for the back. Be sure to put print it out correctly so they end up behind the right one.

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Well, these are just some of the ones I’ve used. I hope they come in handy for your future lesson plans! Think of all the time you’ll save and how cool it’ll be to give your students a worksheet that is made especially for them.

 

Happy teaching this week!

 

 

FINAL IDEA: As a final tip, get your students to use these for homework. For example, if they are reading a book, have them identify the new vocabulary words and make a crossword puzzle. When in class, exchange the crossword puzzles and when they are done you can do one comprehensive list for the whole class. Always take a few of your own, just in case a student didn’t do their homework.

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Using ELT links in and out of class to engage students

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Courtesy of miniyo73 at flickr.com

All teaching is moving towards digital aids to help our students (especially those newer generations) get on board and motivated to learn English by alternative exercises than fill-in-the-blank and workbook activities. While preparing classes and trying to find websites that could do just that, I found these three that always come in very handy for either in class fun or homework.

1. Voscreen

Voscreen can be used in many different ways, as well as in different languages. First off, it’s a completely free platform, but it does require you to sign up. So, your students will have to sign up, or you can create one account which they can all use. I’ve used this one for out-of-class practice and students seem to really enjoy themselves and learn a lot. To give it a try log in as a guest. First, they will ask is for you to choose a language. Some considerations: whatever language you choose is the one that the phrases will be translated to. So, if you’d like to practice this as a translation exercise choose your student’s mother tongue. If they are a bit more advanced, than try out English. In this mode it’s perfect for paraphrasing practice.

How it works: 

Your students watch a fragment of a video (very short phrase or dialog) and then they must choose the phrase that best matches or translates the phrase (depending on the language you chose). They can choose two options before doing this. The one on the left is without subtitles and the one on the right is with subtitles. Choosing this will start the timer and they must choose the correct answer before it runs out. If they need to listen again they can press the red play button on the screen. In either case, with or without translations, it will show them the correct answer once the time has run out or they’ve chosen their response.

How and when to use it:

I’ve used this site as extra listening practice for exam preparation students, or as an in-class bonus exercise for my students. I’ve felt it’s perfect for paraphrasing practice. Now, I’m not a huge fan of translations, so I tend to use it more for my advanced students in English mode, but you’re free to give the Spanish version a try.

2. Lyrics Training

This one has been around for a while now and most teachers are using it in class with students, but they’ve added some features that can help out with our more basic students. First of all, for those of you who maybe haven’t used it some initial thoughts. This is a website to practice English, as well as other languages, through a fill-in-the-blank automated system, not just for English.

How it works: 

For starters, you can choose the songs based on level of difficulty (green=easy, orange=intermediate, red=advanced), country (the flag on the right hand corner) and genre (by clicking on the button on the top). Once you’ve chosen the right song, you have the option of choosing four levels: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Expert. Each one relates to the percentage of words of the song that are randomly blanked out each time that you play, including the Expert, or as they say it “Are you crazy?” level which blanks out the complete song. It’s important to note that since it is random, students can play the game with the same song as many times as they like. This is where they’ve added a new feature; you can either choose a Write Mode or Choice Mode. For lower levels choose the Choice Mode and for higher levels the Write Mode. When your students begin to play, they must either write the word or choose the correct option when the song gets to the blank. If they make a mistake or take too long, the timer on the top starts the countdown. When that timer has run out you lose the game.

How and when to use it:

This website is great and motivates students a lot to practice outside of the classroom. As teachers, it’s a great task when you want to practice listening, vocabulary or spelling. It is a game, so you can even have some fun with it and make a tournament out of it. You’ll see students practicing in their free time to come out on front!

3. English Central

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Courtesy of Jinho Jung at flickr.com

English Central also makes you to create a user to use its website, but it is free. If you’re interested later on, you could even explore the possibility of using it at your school, since they offer excellent options for integrating it into your curriculum. This website has two formats: videos and courses. In the videos part, you can do quick exercises with videos, commercials or songs; in the courses part you will find different courses created through short videos. Some nice features on this one is that the lessons include four parts: Watch, Learn, Speak and Evaluate, so students really get the opportunity to learn the vocabulary.

How it works: 

As a tip, if you prefer an all-English platform, you can change this in your settings so that the instructions, tips and answers are given in English, instead of translated to your student’s L1. It has some really interesting features that can make learning very interactive for your students. The first stage is to simply Watch the video, although your students can also begin to interact by clicking on words they don’t know. Every word that is clicked on will show the definition, pronunciation and an example sentence (if the platform is in another language the translation will also appear). The second stage is Learn, and here they will blank out some words that the students have to type in. Again they have help if they need it. Then in stage three students can practice their Speaking by recording their voice and comparing it with the original audio. It even grades them (although I haven’t been completely sold on that component yet). Finally, in stage four the students are Evaluated on the words they learned.

How and when to use it: 

Most of the videos are very short, so I like doing this exercise to warm up when I have my students in a lab. Another option is to give all of your students the same link, have them do it at home and take a screenshot of their final result. When you’re registered as a school, the teacher can even keep track of their students’ results and progress through the platform. All in all, I love the fact that students can practice, independent of their level, with authentic English.

 

Punctuation Saves Lives

Yes, punctuation is an important element in the English language and can even change the meaning of what our students are trying to say. So, why not teach them the importance with these fun quotes and activities.
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Dictate to them the following letter and see where they put the punctuation marks. Once they are done, give them a handout with the letter written in these two versions:

Dear John:
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy–will you let me be yours?
Jane

Unfortunately, John was far from pleased. In fact, he was heartbroken. You see, John was familiar with Jane’s peculiar ways of misusing punctuation marks. And so to decipher the true meaning of her email, he had to re-read it with the marks altered:

Dear John:
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?
Yours,
Jane

Extra tip:

If you want to have fun some more fun, try this:

1. Have your students make memes misusing punctuation

2. Use all of the images in a Powerpoint presentation

3. Have the students identify the mistakes.

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Using technology in the classroom – Prezi Vs PowerPoint

The English classroom becomes more and more technological in some schools, which allows us to include some creative twists to our sessions integrating different programs such as Prezi and Powerpoint. Ever wonder which is best for your class?

Prezi is a virtual canvas that allows you to tell a story in a dynamic way. It has been used avidly since 2008, when it was created by Zui Labs, a Hungarian company. It allows users to make a presentation similar to PowerPoint, with the difference that this online tool will pan and zoom, and to size, rotate, or edit any object located on its canvas. Now, some may say that it’s no different or others say it’s overrated. Decide for yourself.

First of all let’s take a look at some of the similarities:

  • You can upload and use: images, sounds, videos, texts and charts
  • They can be used in all kinds of contexts: academic, personal or business

Now, let’s take a look at each tool separately and analyze what pros and cons each one has.

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Pros

  • Free, if you don’t mind your Prezis being public (unless you upgrade or have an educational account, which is fairly easy to obtain)
  • Sensation of being more fluid and visual
  • Web-based (work from any computer or tablet)
  • Collaboration feature
  • non-linear navigation
  • short learning curve (if you give it a real chance)

Cons

  • If you go nuts with the zoomable features, you can make people dizzy (Use grouping and frames to avoid this sensation)
  • Limited printing options
  • Web-based (when you have internet, unless you upgrade. Although you can also download your Prezis, they will no longer be editable)
  • Animated feature can become too much and not be as cool after about 10 presentations
  • There is a learning curve

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Pros

  • More features and options in latest versions
  • PowerPoint animations CAN impact a crowd
  • Linear slide format and design (some prefer it)
  • More people are familiar with the format, which usually means they prefer it
  • No learning curve

Cons

  • Animation is not as smooth as Prezi
  • If not used well may come out as boring to the audience
  • Usually only the most common features are used (about 10%)
  • Linear slide format (finding a slide after you’ve passed it could be a hassle)

Prezi Vs PowerPoint

I’ll begin with saying how important it is to mention that independent of the tool you use to give your presentation, the result will rely solely on your ability to plan and include meaningful content.

Prezi:

Great for presentations that need:

  • to look at the big picture – details
  • to skip back and forth
  • map-like layouts
  • brainstorming
  • timeline
  • whiteboard effect

PowerPoint:

Great for presentations that need to explain:

  • reports
  • step-by-step ideas
  • processes
  • linear
  • numbers and data

Things to remember

  • Don’t overuse animations (or zooming in Prezi’s case)
  • Focus on the content. Don’t get so wrapped up in the tool and all the cool fun stuff you can do with it, that you forget the most important part: meaningful content.

Now, the good news. You don’t have to choose just one. You can mix and match based on your presentation. Now, as an EFL teacher I’ve found it extremely useful because it allows me to have a pre-made whiteboard that I can flip through easily, following my lesson plan with ease. Even though I usually create a kind of route that will take me step by step, it also allows me to zoom out and make use of the whole canvas in a very global way giving me a certain flexibility that PowerPoint doesn’t. Now here are some useful links that have tons of ideas as to how to use either PowerPoint or Prezi in the classroom.

Ideas for using Prezi or PowerPoint

Here are some links to get you started and a bit more informed as to how to use Prezi and PowerPoint in the ESL classroom.

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Tools for online teaching. Part 1.

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Ever find yourself teaching online and wanting to share more content with your students? Well, this used to happen to me all the time, and I’ve come across a few tools that have helped me to improve my interaction with my online students. I wanted to share with you guys this one site that has been great!

Watch2gether

Watch2gether allows you to watch videos with friends, students and family in a fun and easy way. It also has a chat available, so you can talk as you watch without interrupting. The following are some considerations to keep in mind and general uses of the site:

  • You can create a temporary room for those one time users or random sessions you need to create. To do this you should click on “Create your Room”. There is no need to create an account, although if you plan on using it often it is worth creating an account and making fixed rooms for your sessions. watch1
  • You can share content from YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion and Soundcloud in a very easy way. You can even search for what you want directly from the page, or simply copy and paste the URL.
  • The participants in the session can also create a playlist.
  • As you watch the videos either party can press Play or Pause, and everyone watching the video will be watching the same thing.
  • Be aware of turning off your mic to not generate an echo.
  • Invite a student by clicking on “Add Friend” and send them the link given. Once they have entered your room you can chat, share videos and either party can participate by either controlling the video, adding videos to the playlist or commenting on what’s being seen.

This tool has come in so handy when giving classes via Skype or other similar platforms that don’t have video sharing capacities. It will definitely give you the interaction we sometimes lose when teaching online and allows you to be in control.

Happy teaching!

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Practice speaking by yourself!

Speaking is most often considered the most important skill when learning a language.  It allows us to communicate effectively, which is usually any student’s ultimate goal. We find ourselves in a predicament though when we want to improve this skill, but have no one to practice with. First of all, this is usually a misconception because we usually know at least one person who has better English than we do. This person can become a “chat buddy” in spaces that you designate to this such as having lunch once a week, holding that weekly meeting in English with coworkers or even just grabbing some coffee during your break. Now, let’s say you want more spaces to practice or truly don’t have anyone to speak with, here’s an idea using a playback technique, so you can practice speaking on your own.
First things first, learning a language is not an over night process, so any learning strategy will require consistency to actually be effective. Keeping this in mind, you should set apart anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes to do this exercise.

You’ll need:
1. Video or article of intetest. It can be digital or printed, as long as you can mark it.
2. Cellphone or recording device.
3. English dictionary or computer.

Here’s the process:
1. Choose an article or video that you find interesting from one of the sources suggested below. It can really be from anywhere, just be sure that it has the transcript and the audio available.
2. Read the article or the transcript and be sure to identify the following things:
– new vocabulary
– main idea
You can do this exercise on the computer, but I find it much more pratical to print out the article, so you can write on it.
3. Look up any word you do not understand. Avoid translating! Instead use an English dictionary. Although I prefer using a Thesaurus  (dictionary for synonyms and antonyms), which allows you to easily associate the meaning of the word with the synonyms or antonyns, and to learn new words at the same time.
4. Now, play the audio or video and follow along. Underline or highlight any word that you weren’t sure about the pronunciation. Listen to it a few times, if necessary, until you feel comfortable with the meaning, the words and the pronunciation.
5. Read the article out loud and record yourself with your cell phone or voice recording device. It’s better to do this part by sentences or paragraphs, although if you’re more advanced you can do the whole article without stopping. Depending on your level it will make the following step easier.
6. Finally, listen to your recording and compare to the original audio. Identify the mistakes and make any necessary corrections. If you really want to make sure you have it right, repeat step 5 until it sounds just the way you want it to.

Some additional tips:
The best website that I’ve found so far to do this exercise is Ted, because of its Live Transcript feature. When doing step 6, you can simply click on the word and the recording will go to that part of the video. Having said this here are my suggestions for the websites you can use to practice:

-Words in the news (Intermediate to Advanced levels)

-Voice of America (Basic to Intermediate levels)

-TED (Intermediate to Advanced levels)

-English Central (All levels)

Some additional websites:
-Dictionary
-Thesaurus